AUTHOR: Katherine Arden
GENRE: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
During the Great War, a combat nurse searches for her brother, believed dead in the trenches despite eerie signs that suggest otherwise, in this hauntingly beautiful historical novel with a speculative twist from the New York Times bestselling author of The Bear and the Nightingale
January 1918. Laura Iven was a revered field nurse until she was wounded and discharged from the medical corps, leaving behind a brother still fighting in Flanders. Now home in Halifax, Canada, she receives word of Freddie’s death in combat, along with his personal effects—but something doesn’t make sense. Determined to uncover the truth, Laura returns to Belgium as a volunteer at a private hospital. Soon after arriving, she hears whispers about haunted trenches, and a strange hotelier whose wine gives soldiers the gift of oblivion. Could Freddie have escaped the battlefield, only to fall prey to something—or someone—else?
November 1917. Freddie Iven awakens after an explosion to find himself trapped in an overturned pillbox with a wounded enemy soldier, a German by the name of Hans Winter. Against all odds, the two men form an alliance and succeed in clawing their way out. Unable to bear the thought of returning to the killing fields, especially on opposite sides, they take refuge with a mysterious man who seems to have the power to make the hellscape of the trenches disappear.
As shells rain down on Flanders, and ghosts move among those yet living, Laura’s and Freddie’s deepest traumas are reawakened. Now they must decide whether their world is worth salvaging—or better left behind entirely.
Thank you to Del Rey and NetGalley for an arc!
First off, do not go into this thinking it is fantasy. It is not, it is more speculative fiction with a bit of an element of the other – supernatural.. Now, with that out of the way I think this book is going to be one people either really enjoy or are just going to be “meh” on if they’re looking for something like the Winternight Trilogy. THIS DOES NOT MAKE IT BAD. THIS BOOK IS GOOD. Sorry, I wanted to be VERY clear about that, set your expectations, because if you don’t read the summary you will be surprised.
Arden’s writing is still spectacular, but it is a different writing style than her other books. It is no less good, just different. I felt that it worked very well for the theme of the book. You have two main characters, siblings, both going on their own journeys, and I feel that it was depicted so well. The cadence of the book is often how the war is described in the book – jarring. I feel like that was the way that Arden intentionally did that, because it was how it felt.
Laura is such a great character, and so is Freddie. I enjoyed both their parts equally in this book. I hate to say this is a “good” book, because while it is, it is also a sad one, a harrowing tale. I was absorbed in this story, and there were some dark, dark moments.
As with her previous works, this book really built on atmosphere and mystery at certain points – it made the book hard to put down. I think the book is very hard to describe as there is so much that is best left to experience first hand as you read.
The descriptions, everything, was just so well done. I cannot commend her enough for how she took a time in history and made it come alive. It was a great read, and I recommend it to people who like both historical fiction and books with a bit of otherness/supernatural elements.